By S. Levine
It’s raining as cars pull into to the dark wet driveway, lit only by a throbbing blue strobe light. The light moves to the beat of the loud trance music coming out of the back of a van covered in stickers reading “Na Nach Nachma Nachman Meuman.”
As people arrive they receive the greeting “Chag Sameach” (happy holiday). Men and children, with white knitted skullcaps, also proclaiming “Na Nach Nachma Nachman Meuman,” are dancing to the music. Some are wearing the traditional black and white of Hassidic Jews, while others are dressed in all white.
It is the anniversary of the death of Rabbi Yisroel Ber Odesser, a controversial Breslov figure of the 20th century, and the founder of the Na Nach sect of Breslov, named after the mantra of “Na Nach…”
Over the past couple of decades, Na Nach’s have made their presence, as an entity different from mainstream Breslov Hassidus, known in Israel. In New York City however, they are small but growing.
Breeah Berezin- Bahr is a Na Nach currently living in Staten Island, but hoping to make her way back to Israel very soon. She became Na Nach at age 19, when she was studying in Tzfat.
“I changed my whole life in three months,” Berezin-Bahr said “I knew I always had to live in Tzfat and I had to be Breslov.”
A highly conspicuous group, Na Nachs spread their message through music, dancing, and displaying their logo wherever possible. This sub-group of Breslov Chassidim believes that Rebbe Nachman of Breslov (1772-1810) was the last righteous person in the world, and spreading his name and teachings is considered to be a large part of fixing the world.
As this group grows in popularity, so does those who are twisting the ideology, and meaning of the mantra “Na Nach.”
This mantra comes from the signature to a letter of comfort, found by Odesser in a time of despair after he transgressed a religious fast. Odesser believed the letter to come from Rebbe Nachman himself, calling it the “Letter from Heaven.” The validity of this letter is highly controversial, and many Breslov Hassidim do not believe in this letter. Those who do are called Na Nachs.
A large number of Na Nachs are Orthodox Jews and understand the letter not as an allowance to sin, but a comfort in case one has sinned.
Berezhin-Bahr understands the mantra of Na Nach as reminder that God loves us, and sees we’re trying, so we shouldn’t worry if something goes wrong. “We have to be the best we can at every moment, and if not – Na Nach. But you can’t plan to do something wrong – it’s there so that if God forbid you do something wrong you don’t get depressed,” she explained.
However, more recently there are those who use the mantra of “Na Nach” as an excuse, a way to right any wrong.
Another NaNach, who says that Rebbe Nachman saved his life, used to be very upset with those who used this mantra to justify sin. “If you have your own problem, deal with it. God still loves you, but don’t say it is Na Nach,” he said.
Simcha Hochman, one of the largest spreaders of Na Nach in New York, is the son of a rabbi and grew up in an extremely religious home in Toronto, Canada. He found Na Nach seven years ago after a lot of spiritual searching and is now a large contributor to http://www.nanach.net.
His reaction to those who use the phrase Na Nach as a justification? “Someone who is intentionally going to do wrong is going to do it anyway. If they say Na Nach that’s a step in the right direction. Na Nachs do whatever they want,” he said. “Na Nachs want to keep the Torah. If you really want to do an aveirah (a transgression) what’s going to stop you? At least you believe that God is greater than everything, at least you have faith in God.”
Rabbi Moshe Weinberger, the Rabbi of Congregation Aish Kodesh in Woodmere, N.Y., studies and gives classes on the teachings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov.
He views Breslov Hassidus as the most contemporary of all Hassidus, yet does not align himself with NaNachs. As someone who studies the teachings of many Hassidic masters, he spoke out strongly against those NaNachs who believe that there have been no true teachers of Torah since Rebbe Nachman, calling such people ignoramuses.